NFL AM: Raiders Look Like Real Contenders


The Raiders Are A Real Contender

It’s tough to believe in any NFL team that has missed the playoffs for 14 straight seasons.

There’s usually a process before a team becomes a legitimate contender. Normally they have to reach .500, before making a Wildcard, then eventually moving forward and winning playoff games.

After their decade and a half lull, the Oakland Raiders appear to be on the accelerated program to contending.

After 10 games the Raiders have an 8-2 record, good for the No. 2 seed in the AFC.  What’s been especially impressive is how Oakland has won their games.  They’ve beaten good teams, the defending Super Bowl champions and they’ve done it in different ways.  Oakland can win with quarterback Derek Carr throwing for 513 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and they can win by pounding out 200 yards on the ground.

To put it simply, they’re the most balanced offense in the NFL.

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio has lauded offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave for his play calling.

“The reality is he’s called a good game,” Del Rio said. “He’s done a nice job down there putting us in a position, putting Derek in position to do the things he does well. You have to give credit to the design of it and then you have to give credit to the execution of it and it starts with the trigger man.

“That’s why when you have a good trigger man, it makes a lot of things kind of go smoothly.”

The trigger man, Carr, has elevated his game and the entire team.  The former second-round pick was passed over as three quarterbacks were taken in front of him and now Oakland is benefiting from their patience and the rest of the NFL’s poor choices as he is not only the best signal caller from the Class of 2014, he’s one of the best in the league and a true MVP candidate.

Del Rio and Carr, along with the architect of this renovation, general manager Reggie MacKenzie have done what few teams in sports are ever able to do.  They’ve changed a culture of losing.

“I think we’ve changed the mentality here in this building and I think that’s part of it,” Del Rio said in a conference call a few weeks ago. “Last year we learned how to compete and this year we’re learning how to close plays, how to make the plays that need to be made to win. Obviously those guys are very key, [QB] Derek [Carr] our quarterback and  being on the same page with all of our receivers, really, not just ‘Crab’ [WR Michael Crabtree], but ‘Coop’ [WR Amare Cooper] as well and [WR] Seth [Roberts]. The time that they’ve spent and being on the same page and being able to execute in critical moments like that often separate winning from losing. I’ve shown confidence in them a couple of times and they’ve rewarded with great execution and that obviously helps our football team build the belief that we can and that we will.”

Carr points to his head coach as a reason for the team’s success.

“There may be [excitement] outside the building, but to us [Head] Coach [Jack] Del Rio has done such a good job teaching us how to take each game the same way,” the former Fresno State star said. “If you treat another game a different way, then you’re probably not doing enough in the first place. He’s done such a great job of teaching us what it takes and we try to make sure our process is always the same.”

If the Raiders played the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship few would pick Oakland.  But with a ground game that is certainly portable, and a big time quarterback and head coach that instills confidence in his team, there’s no place that the Raiders can’t go and come out with a victory.

Luck May Miss Thursday Night’s Game

Winners of two straight games and three out of four, the Indianapolis Colts have climbed their way back into the race for the AFC South championship.

If they’re going to keep this impressive run going, it’s likely going to be without the key factor in all of it, quarterback Andrew Luck who is in concussion protocol.

Luck and safety Clayton Geathers are both doubtful for Thursday night’s game as Indianapolis will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“Well after we were all done with the locker room, both guys didn’t feel right and went in the training room, and both were evaluated for concussions. Both are in the protocol,” said Colts head coach Chuck Pagano.

Luck was sacked twice and hit eight other times in the team’s 24-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

If the former No. 1 overall pick can’t go, backup Scott Tolzien will get the call.

“He has a limited amount of exposure, but he is a pro,” Pagano said of Tolzien. “Again, if he has to roll and be the guy, then he will do a great job. He prepares really well every single day.”

Indy will likely have Luck back when they take on the New York Jets on December 5th.

Jay Cutler’s Bears’ Career May Be Over

In a season that has been lost in many different ways, the Chicago Bears may have suffered their third season-ending injury at the quarterback position.

According to a Chicago Tribune report, quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a significant shoulder injury which may cause him to miss the rest of the 2016 season.

In the short term, the next man up is former University of Southern California star Matt Barkley, who has spent time with three organizations in his career and has shown little more than the ability to be a second- or third-string quarterback.

As for Cutler, this was likely to be his last season in Chicago.  The inconsistent play from the 33-year old has not rendered his $17 million salary a good use of funds and next year his cap hit reduces to just $2 million, making it a near lock that the Bears walk away from the veteran.

What is next for Cutler?  

Although he’s proven himself to not be the guy you’d want to build your franchise around, he is certainly one of the most talented 32 quarterbacks in the NFL.

The list of possible destinations for the former first-round pick from Vanderbilt is small, but teams like the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Francisco 49ers could make a certain amount of sense.

The Jets will be walking away from Ryan Fitzpatrick and backups Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg aren’t yet capable of leading a team.

Cleveland has virtually no answers at quarterback and Cutler would represent a potential upgrade over what’s currently on the roster and he can be the band-aid for a 2017 rookie.

The Jaguars haven’t decided whether they will walk away from former No. 3 overall pick Blake Bortles, but the future is certainly murky as there is sure to be a new head coach and possibly a new general manager.  Cutler can again be a band-aid.

Finally, San Francisco has no legitimate starter on the roster and Cutler’s underrated mobility could allow him to operate Chip Kelly’s offense, assuming he’s still the head coach.

At this point, it seems like one of those destinations will be a more likely landing spot for Jay Cutler in 2017 than his current franchise in Chicago.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.